Saturday, March 10, 2012



I went in for my monthly haircut today. My hairdresser, when he's not busy trimming barcodes like myself, is a bit of an eBay wheeler-dealer. He seemed disconcertingly pleased to see me - for a second, I thought he was about to offer me a business partnership or something. It was actually much worse.

"I had your brother in here the other day," he beamed. This, on the face of it, seemed likely enough - the last time I saw my brother he had several nasty-looking cuts on his ears and some of his hair was missing. "He tells me you can read Japanese."

I answered, a little guardedly, that I can. The reason for my caution is that Japanese literacy is a bit of an unreliable party trick. With tens of thousands of symbols in the language, there's quite a lot that gets past me.

"I need someone to read me the inscription on this," he continued, producing an oriental-looking sword from his odds-and-sods cupboard.

Ah, I thought. An oriental-looking sword. It appears that Sweeney Todd bought this item for £20 at a car boot sale, which would not seem to bode well for its provenance. Nor perhaps, for its possible involvement with several current murder investigations. The barber conceded that he mainly bought the thing as it didn't look like it was in particularly safe hands.

I drew the blade. On one side was Honda Ichirou, a Japanese John Smith, on the other side Shouwa something-or-other, possibly another name, possibly the date of the weapon's creation.

Mistaking Shouwa for Showa (even legendary calligraphers cock up from time to time) I speculated that, if the sword were genuine, it might have been created around the time of the Second World War. This cheered mine host considerably.

"Ooh, could be a bit of history there then," he said. "Could have been awarded to someone or something, eh?"

"Could be," I conceded. "Or, it could have been used to murder countless scores of Korean comfort women."

"Still a bit of history though," he mused.


After a spot of research, I found that the Shouwa period pre-dates Showa by about 600 years. Incidentally, the maximum penalty for trading counterfeit katana in the UK is a £5,000 fine and six months in the slammer.


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